The joy is in the transformation that is wrought and the growth she achieves as a result of having front row seats for the devastation of her world. I very much like who she becomes. Everything about this book takes its time, from the main character's evolution, to the extremely subtle and slow-building romance, to the final quiet and bittersweet conclusion. It could get tiresome, but to me it felt earned. If historical fiction is not your thing, you might find it difficult to sink into the slightly affected vocabulary and speech mannerisms of the principle characters.
For me, the unusual blend of historical tapestry, magic, and early steampunk in the form of crazily creepy machinery used as part of the revolution worked like a charm.
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I would love to hear what fans of any or all of those genres think of it as it has long been a favorite. View all 6 comments. Jan 11, Jacob Proffitt rated it it was ok Recommends it for: Young girls who want to feel smart and beautiful and challenged by drama and a hidden romance. Shelves: unfinished , fantasy. Okay, I made it as far as I'm going to with this book. There are three real problems with it. First, the cover copy mentions a bloody revolution and the heroine begging bread in the street. It took over a third of the book before the revolution even started, though it's bloody enough once it comes.
And a revolution was clearly coming. The book begins with depictions of a brutally-suppressed populace with an uncaring nobility with the Okay, I made it as far as I'm going to with this book. The book begins with depictions of a brutally-suppressed populace with an uncaring nobility with the fancy fantasy name of Exalted and a rightsless peasantry of actual serfs—so it's not like you can't see the revolution coming.
Taking that long to get to the obvious was just dumb, though. Second, and this is related, the book takes forever to develop obvious plot points. Yes, the descriptions are lush and the world incredibly detailed. The characters are deep and fully-realized. But get on with the story, already! Seriously, Eliste is in a holding pattern with no motivation and little gumption beyond spurning a powerful letch.
She's smart, but completely wasted. The author may be making a point about women of privilege, but if so, please give me something to hold my interest. Third, and this was the real killer for me, the situation was bad enough without adding a truly despicable villain who succeeded mostly because the author wanted him to. Valeur was unrelievedly evil but he wasn't that smart cunning I grant you and wasn't that strong and he wasn't even personally magical.
But Paula Volsky surrounded him with followers who were either terribly weak or fanatically loyal and that simply doesn't wash. There's a reason the Reign of Terror didn't last a whole year yes, I had to look that up —that kind of coalition of greed and passion is naturally fractured and impossible to control. On top of that, his actual opposition was impossibly obtuse. I mean, they're supposed to be clever, and yet they hesitate and delay and make excuses why they can't actively oppose him to the point that I lost all patience, and sympathy, with them.
To go along with this last point, and comprising a large part of it, are the magical artifacts view spoiler [the evil Valeur somehow resurrects to enhance his power. They're something of a McGuffin as we don't know at least to the point I got in the novel why they were made or who made them let alone why they fell into disuse. And I can see why we don't see this: because their existence makes zero sense beyond that they work wonderfully to back up Valeur's absolute control over Sherreen.
Who would make such objects of power and a leave their operation open to any lunatic that gets his hands on them, b give them sentience without the sapience to direct their own use, and c then let them fall into disuse?
I mean, come on! The spy machine alone is incredibly useful for any regime.
How could that be left moldering in the basement of a building and nobody have bothered to figure out how to keep it going? I mean, all it took, apparently, is a moderately powerful mage to think at it for a while. I'm sorry, but at that point I don't really care enough to discover whatever epiphany you have in store for the beautiful girl with the unpronounceable name who hasn't seen her obvious love-interest since she left home half a novel ago. Illusion is a beautifully-written book, mind.
And Eliste is practically designed to appeal to any girl who wants to feel smart and beautiful and challenged by drama and a hidden romance.
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Unfortunately for me, it's been a long time since I was such a girl Shelves: best-liked-reads , a-rivalry-so-good , bonus-points-for-creativity , exceptional-characterisation , romance-done-well , magnificent-schemers , urban-and-steampunk-fantasy , historical-fantasy , how-bitter-and-how-sweet , insanely-badass-moment. Nenia told the truth: this book is incredible. So fast-paced, so twisty, so brutal at times, and hard to guess how it'd go despite the very obvious basis for the plotline that would lead readers acquainted with the French Revolution to expect it'd be predictable.
It does have its last minute rescue moments, but balanced by such an incessant barrage of troubles and setbacks that you start doubting this will ever end well as the Big Escape moments would indicate. And despite being pure fantasy and Nenia told the truth: this book is incredible. And despite being pure fantasy and not technically "historical," the worldbuilding and plotline are so well done one often has to remind oneself this isn't real France. The characterisation is probably what I liked best and that made this book into an all-time favourite. For one, this is one of those rarest of rare stories of female redemption.
Do you know just how rare it is to read a woman's redemption arc? Just think of how many literary rakes and scoundrels and bad boys get a redemption arc. Cartloads of them get one, right? Now try to recall how many women got one. Right, I can't count enough to use all the fingers in one hand. That's how Eliste vo Derrivalle became my favourite character here, for her profound, gradual and genuine transformation from an Exalted snot-in-training to a courageous survivalist that comes to own the wrongness of her former aristocratic worldview and embraces a new life her old self would've despised.
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I'm sure some would find her annoying or don't consider her likable, but it's precisely the fact that she doesn't change overnight, doesn't go far ahead of her times as to feel anachronistic or is impervious to the effects of her privileged background what makes her maturation so genuine. Uncle Quinz was also very delightful! In fact, all sides get a POV character that narrates their bit, including the villain side.
That's another plus in my opinion, it's not that frequent to find the antagonist side has a voice save for perhaps in the morally relativist fantasy of late.
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The pace makes it feel it short despite the considerable length. I also noticed a couple loose threads that might serve if the author were to want to continue this or another story in the same world, but overall I think the story ended where it should and is fine as a standalone, one I'd recommend highly. View all 4 comments. Mar 29, Salsera rated it it was amazing Shelves: m-f-read , fantasy , own-physical-copy.
I first read this in the mids, and I've been periodically re-reading it ever since. This was a wonderful story that melded the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, magic, and a classic romance between a haughty aristocrat and a smarter-than-anyone-wanted-to-believe field worker. The narrative zips along, the characters are nicely-drawn, and the dialogue is witty and sharp. I only wish that the romance had been a bit more -- well -- romantic.
The fantasy, though, was outstanding, and a I first read this in the mids, and I've been periodically re-reading it ever since. The fantasy, though, was outstanding, and almost makes up for the disappointing lack of woo. I've read several of Volsky's books, and this was, hands down, the best. I just love this book. Even though it's a well-written book, I have found it very hard to enjoy. So I apologise if this comes across as less of a review and more of a vent - it's been a long, long time since I read a book as frustrating and full of pet peeves as this.
In general, I'd probably still recommend it, but not without a massive warning. The blurb and recommendations seemed to promise many things I wanted. A revolution plot! Lower classes rising against their masters! Riches to rags! Character development! So Even though it's a well-written book, I have found it very hard to enjoy. Some vague rumours about a guilliotine-like character! I was looking forward to it a lot. It seemed like I'd love it and fuck, I wanted so bad to love it.
Revolutionary fantasy is seriously lacking.
https://scapicilcheslo.ga But even a good concept can't always save a book. Most of it is because of the characters. Eliste is horribly spoiled, blinded by her own privileged upraising, and largely without agency. Out of all the Exalted characters she has the most redeeming qualities - she rescues a peasant from execution for example - but that's not exactly saying much. The grandmother is vain and arrogant. Aurelie is vapid, shallow, and her stupidity often gets everyone in trouble. I hated her the most out of everyone. Her actions, her manner of speech - nails on a chalkboard personified.
Sure she goes throgh major shit view spoiler [like being repeatedly raped by a jailer in exchange for him helping her avoid certain execution - nobody deserves that, no matter how horrible hide spoiler ] but she remains an intolerable character to read about no matter what.
And all of the Exalted think the peasants are less than human. Rather hard to be sympathetic. Oh, I suppose it's all realistic enough. Well-written in its ability to frustrate. Spoiled, privileged brats acting like spoiled, privileged brats. Fun to read about though?